The YouTube Orchestra. Meh…

In what feels like the orchestral equivalent of the overhyped Snakes On A Plane, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra fell into the world of online promotion like a cultural bat out of hell. Frankly, I don’t get why some people see it as such a big deal. The egalitarian slant is quickly revealed to be nothing more than democratic pabulum since Michael Tilson Thomas hand picks the finalists anyway (as pointed out at Abu Bratsche in true “Levinesque” form)…

movie filmIs it interesting to see someone use a new media format for something culturally oriented? Sure, but ultimately that’s all there is to this project. Consequently, the entire structure of this scheme doesn’t merit the status of groundbreaking; in fact, I wouldn’t be comfortable calling it ground-splintering.

Think of it this way: Does anyone remember the first orchestra to be broadcast on television? How about the first orchestra to release a recording on CD or record directly to digital? Me neither; and that is exactly where I think this YouTube project will end up.

From a positive perspective, I do hope this will be the first of many efforts to find better uses for new media platforms with regard to increasing the cultural consciousness. From somewhere a little more cynical, I hope this post is long enough so that I don’t have to write anything else on the topic. If you’re looking for more, I highly recommend you head over and read what the Iron Tongue of Midnight has to say about all of this as well as Soho The Dog. Both are chocked full of sufficiently entertaining and meaningful content.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “The YouTube Orchestra. Meh…”

  1. I agree with you that there’s nothing terribly new about the idea of a YouTube Orchestra, but there is one aspect of this project that does merit attention and will certainly make a difference someday. As far as I know, the YouTube orchestra is the first ensemble to hold online auditions. Let’s hope that some real orchestras follow suit.

    As orchestra auditions get more competitive, it is becoming increasingly common for as many as 200 musicians to show up for a single open seat. The audition committee will only advance a small percentage, perhaps as few as four or five, to the final round. With available and widespread technology such as YouTube, orchestras could easily replace the preliminary live audition round with a review of online video submissions.

    In larger orchestras this would save a great deal of time for audition committee members, who could even review video auditions at home. Regional orchestras would benefit from increased participation. Smaller ensembles often have difficulty attracting qualified musicians, who must weigh the cost of travel versus the likelihood of winning the audition. Even major orchestras could benefit from this effect, since musicians could take the first audition round for orchestras anywhere in the world. While I would certainly not travel all the way to South America for a traditional audition at which I would face terrible odds, I might take a chance if I knew I would only be up against 10-12 finalists selected from an online pool of audition recordings. This leads me to my last point, which is that the many musicians on the orchestra audition circuit would save a lot of money and time.

    • Thanks for the insight Oliver but it is fair to point out that many orchestras already have a process in place to help screen initial audition applicants that sometimes requires the submission of recorded excerpts etc. I do know that some orchestras who do not utilize this system believe that every audition hopeful deserves the opportunity to audition live. Although this is a commendable perspective, it does create some of the “cattle call” style turnouts that are logistical cumbersome to implement. Consequently, the issues you are referring to already have solutions in place that have been working for some time. Furthermore, the YouTube component which relies on video denies the ability for fair audition which conceals the identity of each audition candidate from the audition committee (an odd benefit of audio-only format).

      I’m certainly not going to say that video based auditions will never find a place in the business but the tools presently available don’t begin to meet the minimum requirements needed to explore sufficient options. Consequently, as of now I would strongly encourage any professional orchestra to avoid the notion of considering using something such as YouTube in any part of their audition process.

  2. You are right, but most people here seem more caught up with the fact that its entry based upon a video recorded audition.

    Ok, how else are you going to get to see people from all around the world, auditioning for an orchestra? It seems like quite an efficient way to me, and it doesn’t require as much money too.

    Sure, YTSO will probably not be a very big deal, but the mere prospect of playing in an orchestra with people from every where on earth seems like an exciting concept to me, even if it isn’t going to be that great.

    Yeah, I don’t remember the first orchestra that was broadcast on television, or the first orchestra to have been digitally recorded. But just think, how many orchestras now ARE broadcast on telelvision, and how many orchestras ARE digitally recorded.

    They might just start a revolution.

  3. I think the event is unique and of interest particularly because it bridges online and offline. There have been many promotions that are “unique” to the digital age that have happened online – but auditioning online for an event that will happen in real life is an amazing idea. Taking the online offline is what makes this special.

    • Thanks for the thoughts Andrew but is this really that original? Again, using recorded auditions is nothing new the only real difference here is YouTube places the burden on the audition candidate to not only create the recording but then upload it. At the same time, the process to select the finalists is from practices that mos orchestra abandoned decades ago (less egalitarianism and greater control in the hands of a single artistic figure)? So where is this idea amazing? As has been pointed out elsewhere in the cultural blogosphere, the audio quality is less than any performer would want to demonstrate the widest range of their talents. IMHO, it’s a virtual pig with YouTube shaded lipstick and even though it’s a nice color, you still need to change the pig for the idea ot be worth something of tangible value.

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